Roger William Gilman studied music, worked for NATO (military intelligence), attended experimental college (Fairhaven), earned several graduate degrees from the University of Chicago and was dean of a liberal arts college. He is an author, poet, philosophy professor and poetry editor.

Cento Poetry

I create Cento poems that use the landscape of the Pacific Northwest as a vocabulary for exploring the interface of human and nonhuman nature. They are imagistic and musical in a subtle – meditative and conversational way and show the influence of Roethke, Stafford, and Snyder.


Philosophy: My approach is that of a critical-idealist, or pragmatist in a cosmopolitan and hermeneutical mode. My main concerns are to understand scientific explanations, ethical responsibilities and human rights, and educational models that promote our full humanity.


My scholarly or lyrical essays focus on the nature and purpose of progressive education, mentoring relationships (not lecturing) to facilitate learning, student negotiated learning plans, interdisciplinary curriculum and experiential pedagogy (small seminars and lots of field, lab, and studio work, and more…

Climbing Mount Rainier

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Along a log-clogged dry-rot trail
heavy-breath and feet I climb,
Stone-step streams, scramble scree
and faith thrust my legs across

chasms in the cliffs that dizzy
me so, I steady my head with my hand
as an eagle grips the crag with its claws.

Straggling and struggling I jungle
thru the green world toward the blue,
Not climbing to conquer but to lie
dreaming under peak-eating clouds
in a flower-filled rock-rimmed mountain meadow
Catching rare air and the distant view
of rivers and mountains without end,

seeing the forest in the trees.
We all have reasons for climbing.
I climb to see things whole.

Fairhaven Seminar on Reading and Writing Poetry

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Transcript of a Fairhaven College Seminar:

On Starting to Read and Write Poetry

(recorded and transcribed by Desmond Jagewon)*


Carol: All right people; lets get started.  We have a guest today — the poet Roger William Gilman.  Our topic is “How does one get started reading and writing poetry?”  What are the alternatives?


Roger: Thanks for the invite.  As a philosopher, I don’t often get to talk directly about reading and writing poetry.  The closest I usually get to these topics is in a philosophy of language course (talking about how metaphors make their meaning; and explaining how you can tell the truth by using a metaphorical or ironical sentence that is not literally true); or in a class on ethics (where we might consider, among other things, the question of moral limits on the responses to, or interpretations and uses of, a poem – or any other kind of artwork for that matter); or perhaps in a course on the philosophy of literature (where we might be considering the question: what is the contribution of consuming literary works to cultivating our humanity?).

… Continue Reading

Daniel Dennett’s Choice

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daniel_dennett-02For thirty years Daniel C. Dennett has been creating a body of work that explores the relation of mind and brain.  Each part of his theory has provoked conversation and controversy along the way.  His general method of inquiry requires adopting “the intentional stance”; this orientation is one of those debatable objects in his tool kit. Traces of all the components of his model are visible in his most recent work. With his new book, Freedom Evolves, Daniel Dennett has written yet another surprising and controversial work. His previous books have drawn a mixed audience of professionals and lay readers, and this new work is meant to do the same. Dennett’s earlier notorious books includeBrainstorms (1978), Elbow RoomThe Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting (1984), The Intentional Stance (1987), Consciousness Explained (1991), and Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (1995).

Dennett’s general approach is to apply the empirical findings of neuroscience and the methods of evolutionary game theory to the … Continue Reading

Interpretive Strategies and the Meanings of Artworks: The Hermeneutical Situation

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With a case study of ethical constraints on conflicting interpretations of poems and metaphors

By Roger William Gilman

Consisting of the introduction to a dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment

Of requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Chicago, 1985

Interpretive Strategies and the Mediation of Meaning: Dancing with Tears in My Eyes: The Hermeneutical Problem

I have been forced by what seems to be an unresolvable conflict of opinion among friends of mine to “turn” and examine, with deliberate thought and imagination, our shared goal of becoming serious students of new artworks.  Most of us in this group are painters or poets, composers or playwrights, actors or dancers.  Few are philosophers or critics.  Artworks have made us over into a self-conscious audience, … Continue Reading

The Nature and Value of a Liberal Education

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A talk for the 50th Year Celebration of the Santa Fe campus of St. Johns College, October 2014

Roger William Gilman

We live in an era where students and their families in our nation have been forced to regard higher education as a consumer good, a personal, private investment in the student’s future life-style — one that pursues an individual view of happiness and well-being as a competition (for a credential) structured by the marketplace.   The alternative, common in our past, was to regard a liberal education as an investment in our neighbors and co-workers  . . . investment in decent and caring partners and parents, and persons with well-cultivated souls.  But now we have privatized almost everything in our lives. And funding of these private investments in ourselves has become a personal responsibility; the debt accrued for advanced education, for instance, is a private not public debt.  This implies that our society currently regards advanced education as a private value, not a public one.

But things might be even worse than this: some pundits claim that a broad and deep education across centuries and hemispheres of … Continue Reading

Cento: the art and craft of quilting poems

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Roger William Gilman

It is Adam’s Curse that “a line may take us hours to quilt; and yet if it does not seem but a moment’s thought, our stitching and unstitching will have been for naught.” W.B. Yeats

The Raw and the Cooked: writing cento

Cento poems are like quilts. I quilt poems. “Cento,” you say. What’s that?”  Good question.  I hadn’t heard of cento myself until recently.  In answer to the question let me offer a metaphor and several examples to help refine a definition and build an explanation of why we all – poetry lover or not — should care about cento.  Then I’d like to draw out implications of this form of poetry — concerning the linguistics, psychology, politics, and ethics of reading and writing cento.

Cento poems are quilts made of salvaged scraps of cloth — words, phrases, lines — from other sources of writing, most of which are other poems.  Cento, however, refers more to the process of construction than to the source of building materials.  Think for example of the collating note-taking practice of Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project as a way of building a text … Continue Reading

Finding the Law of One’s Own Freedom: Negative and Positive Freedom in the Fairhaven College Community

Finding the Law of One’s Own Freedom: Negative and Positive Freedom in the Fairhaven College Community

FairhavenCollege-mainbuilding_webThis “manifesto” was written in 1970 (?) when I was just home from service in Germany with NATO and had enrolled in Fairhaven College which at the time was just a couple of years old.  Its curriculum, policies and procedures were still under construction.  For those of us who were students this was a chaotic circumstance under which to experience our first real freedom: we had to conduct independent research and design our own majors without any real models yet in place.  During the year, in meeting after meeting, the students, faculty and staff tried to hammer out rules for this emerging learning community. But we seemed to be spinning our wheels.


I typed this “manifesto” on mimeograph paper and wrote it under the pseudonym, Henry Burlingame (because I was currently reading John Barth’s The Sot Weed Factor and intended to become a philosopher and poet just like the protagonist of the novel, Henry Burlingame).  Late at night I slipped copies of the essay into everyone’s mailboxes up on the third floor of “the big house.” … Continue Reading

Come Together, Right Now, Over This

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  • seminar_class_outside_web

Here’s something to celebrate, even in these hard times.  Fairhaven College (of Western Washington University) is graduating its 40th class of students this spring, in June.  The college family and all its friends are marking this anniversary May 14th and 15th (2010) on campus.  Alums will gather from all over the continent, even from overseas, to honor this vital and intimate institution that nurtures their values and careers.   Even those who are not graduates of Fairhaven relish its accomplishments and honor its contributions to our community.

Fairhaven graduates, now scattered around the globe, have not only distinguished themselves as doctors and lawyers, scientists and scholars, artists, writers, and musicians, as social workers and activists, teachers, midwives, and farmers; they have also become exemplary neighbors and citizens, life partners and parents.  They have learned not just how to earn a good living, but how to lead a good life. … Continue Reading

What is a Liberal Education?

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In The College Curriculum: a reader, ed. by Joseph DeVitis, 2013, Peter Lang: New York, Berlin, Oxford, pp. 7-13

ISBN 978-1-4331-1789-3

Roger William Gilman, Dean of Fairhaven College                                                    

Western Washington University

In my role as academic dean of a college offering students a ‘liberal education,’ I am often asked by new students what this means.  What is a liberal education?

Our students are not alone; most people asking this question are genuinely puzzled by its meaning; and I find that the few who do have some ideas about the nature and purpose of a liberal education often hold misconceptions.  It’s not just our students who want to know: potential employers of our students, donors to the university, state legislators, trustees, and even colleagues in our colleges sometimes wonder about the nature, purpose, and value of liberal education. … Continue Reading

A Sociobiological Explanation of Strategies Of Reading and Writing Philosophy

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semiahmoo-resortThe Philosophical Forum, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Spring) 1990, pp. 295-323

A disciple is just a gene’s way of making another philosopher in its own image.

                                                                                                                       A Variation on an Old Theme by Herbert Simon

By writing and reading – just as by speaking and listening – we seek encouragement, appreciation, respect, and assistance; we test and refine our self-image, reveal desire, anxiety, and disappointment; we negotiate our daily lives.  Performing the linguistic acts of writing and reading (or speaking and listening) is the distinctive mode of survival invented by homo sapiens.  Yet “analytic philosophers” working in the “plain style” have actively avoided the social and psychological concerns these actions suggest – relegating them to the realm of “expressive discourse” and “emotional appeal” or placing them outside the study of philosophical reading and writing entirely. … Continue Reading